Outdoor recreation officials caution winter recreationists heading to the Cascades

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, weekend visitors crowd the Cascades creating safety hazards and finding fewer options.

National forests, national parks, state parks, Sno-Parks and ski resorts within Washington state have reached critical mass as an increasing number of outdoor recreationists, including those new to winter play, seek fun in the snow.

“Know before you go. Check to ensure your snow play activity is permitted at your destination,” said Brian McNeil, US Forest Service recreation program manager. “For example, sledding is not allowed at most ski areas.”

The recent uptick in visitation often creates significant safety concerns for travelers and responders alike. Overcrowded parking areas are spilling onto adjacent roads, blocking access for travelers, ambulances and other emergency vehicles.

“We’re seeing more parked vehicles and people walking along highway and ramp shoulders – which is a tragedy waiting to happen. These areas are not designed for parking or pedestrians,” said WSDOT deputy secretary Keith Metcalf. “In addition, the illegally parked vehicles are also hindering our crews’ ability to clear and treat roads and forces more road or pass closures, which affects everyone trying to use the roadways.”

In order to meet state guidelines around COVID-19, ski resorts within the Cascades have greatly reduced the number of guests they can accommodate and have been reaching maximum capacity each weekend.

“We have hit a critical mass of over-visitation at Snoqualmie Pass,” said Guy Lawrence, general manager for the Summit at Snoqualmie. “More people than ever are coming to Snoqualmie Pass; ironically, more people than ever are also being turned away.”

Visitors new to winter recreation and travelers unaccustomed to driving in snow have become a common sight in the Cascades this year. More travelers find themselves stuck in the mountains because of snow covered roads, fallen trees and negligent or illegal parking.

“Kittitas County welcomes recreational users of our amazing public lands. We simply ask them to respect the land use and parking regulations that protect public safety and the quality of life of residents,” said Chris Whitsett, inspector for Kittitas County Sheriff’s Department. “Additional deputies have been assigned to these areas during this winter’s busy weekends.”

For those lucky visitors who find a safe and open parking spot, officials emphasize proper trail etiquette and social distancing guidelines. Public land managers stress that, while public lands are for everyone, that for everyone’s safety visitors should avoid congested areas, pack out what they pack-in, carry extra warm sets of clothing, winter safety equipment and the 10 essentials.

“Many aspects of outdoor recreation boil down to using good judgement and trying to reduce your impact on the environment and the people around you,” said Kindra Ramos, communications director for Washington Trails Association. “One easy way to do that right now is to choose a snow-free adventure close-to home. We are so lucky in Washington to have some many wonderful places to explore year-round.”

Visitors are encouraged to recreate responsibly this winter. Please review these important winter safety tips before heading out:

  1. Weekends are seeing a record-level of visitors. If you can, consider saving your visit for a weekday instead.
  2. Know before you go. Check to ensure your snow play activity is permitted at your destination. For example, sledding is not allowed at most ski areas.
  3. Parking lots are filling up as early as 9 a.m., especially on weekends. If designated parking is full, so is the snow play area. Arrive early, pack your patience, and have a well-researched plan B and C (which should include an alternative activity).
  4. Do not park illegally. Parking along highways, in turnouts, and outside designated spots blocks access for emergency vehicles and snowplows and is hazardous to pedestrians and other drivers.
  5. Prep your car for winter travel. Carry chains and practice using them before you need them. Keep your gas tank full, and pack extra warm layers, food, and water. Don’t rely on cell service or GPS for directions, and keep in mind that many forest roads are not maintained for winter travel.
  6. Follow the current mask and social distancing guidelines. This will keep yourself and others safe and healthy.
  7. For more responsible recreation tips visit http://www.recreateresponsibly.org.

For more information on the agencies and partners working to promote responsible winter recreation, visit their websites:

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

North Cascades National Park

WA State Parks

WA Department of Natural Resources

Washington Trails Association

Mountains to Sound Greenway

The Summit at Snoqualmie

WA Department of Transportation

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